Stomach Of Ancient Iceman Held Microbes Like Ours : Shots - Health News Scientists analyzed the tummy of a 5,300-year-old ice mummy and found bacteria that many modern humans still carry.
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Stomach Of Ancient Iceman Held Microbes Like Ours

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Stomach Of Ancient Iceman Held Microbes Like Ours

Stomach Of Ancient Iceman Held Microbes Like Ours

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You know, I am often jealous of my colleague, Geoff Brumfiel. He's a science correspondent - does these awesome stories about missions to space. I'm not so jealous today. He is reporting on the stomach of a frozen mummy. In the Iceman, researchers found a frozen dinner and also an ancient species of bacteria.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Five thousand three hundred years ago, a man was hiking across the Alps when somebody shot him in the back with an arrow. He collapsed onto a rock and stayed there until 1991, when some hikers spotted his body. The so-called Iceman made headlines around the world. And today, he's in an Italian laboratory.

ALBERT ZINK: He's very well preserved. You can see that all of his tissues and also his skin is still preserved.

BRUMFIEL: Albert Zink heads the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman. Years of study have revealed his age...

ZINK: He was around 40 to 50 years old.

BRUMFIEL: ...His diseases, including arthritis.

ZINK: ...Probably from walking a lot in this mountain environment; also, maybe, from carrying some heavy loads.

BRUMFIEL: But there was one place where researchers had yet to probe - the Iceman's stomach. For a long time, they couldn't find it. It had shriveled up over the centuries. Then, about five years ago, a researcher finally spotted it.

ZINK: And then he saw that the stomach is preserved, and the stomach is completely filled with material.

BRUMFIEL: The scientists wanted a sample, so they went in. Zink says there were so many doctors in the room, it actually felt like surgery on a living person.

ZINK: We had one who was a gastroenterologist - an expert for stomach and intestines. We had a forensic doctor. We had our pathologist with us, who is also responsible for the conservation of the mummy. We have another person who were then taking the samples, who was making notes.

BRUMFIEL: Inside, they found the Iceman's last supper. The menu appears this week in the journal Science. It includes meat from a deer and an alpine mountain goat.

ZINK: He obviously had a big meal before he died.

BRUMFIEL: But even more interesting, the researchers found DNA from a type of bacteria that lived in his guts. It's called Helicobacter pylori.

MARTIN BLASER: Helicobacter pylori is part of the normal organisms that live in the human body.

BRUMFIEL: Martin Blaser is a physician and microbiologist at New York University. This bacteria lives in about half of all modern humans. Researchers have found it causes ulcers and stomach cancer. But more recent work by Blaser and others has also shown it seems to provide protection against some common diseases, like acid reflux and asthma.

BLASER: The story is complicated. And that actually fits in very nicely with this paper because it's consistent with an organism that's been around for a very long time in humans.

BRUMFIEL: Based on genetic evidence, Blaser believes this bacteria has been helping and hindering humans since way before the Iceman, passing from generation to generation for hundreds of thousands of years. Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News.

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